My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The first time I heard of Man who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, I was amused that anyone would do that–see his wife and think ‘hat’? How silly! I figured when I read the book, I’d find this was a clever play on words. It didn’t take long, though–less than a chapter–to find out that this was the world of one man and his psychosis. His brain couldn’t collect the pieces picked up by his eyes and put them together sufficiently to determine what was his wife and what was the thing he’d put on his head to keep it dry.
Sacks tells this story, and many other odd illnesses that our fellow humans suffer, with empathy and knowledge but no pity. I like that. He approaches these individuals with an interest in helping them recover a reality they’ve lost, not with any attitude that they are somehow lessor individuals because their bodies have stopped functioning like those around them. As a writer, I want to 1) include these fascinating oddities into my characters, and 2) share his sense of wonder about what is outside the norm with my readers.
I came away from my time spent with Oliver Sacks and his patients wondering what I’ve missed when watching others, what goes on in their brains that I can’t see and maybe haven’t taken the time to understand. Is the human race more different than the same? Now, one book richer in my intellect, I’m quite sure that the slight difference in DNA between us and chimps and other life forms doesn’t nearly tell the real story of life and its many forms.